First published: UK, Gollancz, 1982; US, Dodd, Mead, 1982
The story is an excuse for the bad pun. The narration is, as often with late Innes, fitfully amusing, but lacks a story.
“There was something rambling and untidy about the entire situation, a lack of anything that could be called a clear-cut mystery at the centre of it, which was decidedly not to his taste.”
Nothing ingenious is done with the sheiks, apart from the problem of why it should “occur to so many men to dress up for Mr. Chitfield’s fête virtually in an identical way”. When murder does occur, by archery, it is explained in one paragraph, and the book then turns into an attempt to smuggle the Emir out of a house surrounded by an unfriendly crowd.
Attempts to involve “a high-level hinterland to the whole affair” by centring the book’s “plot” around a financial crisis involving Middle Eastern oil (“fishing in troubled waters—but with no shortage of oil to pour on them”) do not help. Shallow and thoroughly bad.
Appleby is back—Sir John Appleby, the brilliant detective who has solved Michael Innes’ greatest mysteries. Nowadays he’s in happy and very comfortable retirement on his country estate, far from Scotland Yard—and remote, one might think, from bizarre crime and the machinations of Big Business. But when he decides to give his support to a charity fête at nearby Drool Court, he finds himself involved in a very strange affair.
For one thing, it’s a fancy dress affair, which in itself can be confusing: Appleby turns up as Robin Hood, and so does his friend and ex-colleague, Colonel Pride, the Chief Constable, who at a hint from the Home Office is “keeping an eye on things”. But what puzzles Appleby is the remarkable number of visitors who have dressed up as sheiks—surely well beyond the possibilities of coincidence.
Chitfield, the tycoon owner of Drool Court, has certainly overdone the entertainment: open-air theatre, a brass band, archery, a hot-air balloon, druidic rites (performed by the Basingstoke Druids), and much else. And when one of the pseudo-sheiks is killed at the archery butts, pierced by an arrow, the entertainment begins to get crazily out of hand.
It’s a tremendous lark—Michael Innes in delightfully light-hearted mood, though through all the comic chaos he and Appleby remain their imperturbable selves.
Times Literary Supplement (T.J. Binyon, 2nd July 1982):
Sir John Appleby, long retired but far from geriatric, is drawn by curiosity and a typically Michael Innes young maiden to a fancy dress charity fête at the well-named Drool Court; his presence proving more than useful when a visitor robed as an Arab is transfixed by an arrow during the archery competition. A light-hearted, frothy and amusing jape, with good scenes, ingenious use of available material (Boy Scouts and herpetologists), and pleasing academic badinage.